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182                                                                                       B- POLEVOI
round to see if anybody was watching him and then bent
over and lovingly stroked the cold, shining leather.
There was another place where the appearance in ward
forty-two of a pair of "artificial feet fit for a king" was
the subject of eager discussion; this was the third-year
course of the medical department of Moscow University.
The whole of the feminine section of that course, and it
was by far the largest section at that time, was fully in-
formed about the affairs of ward forty-two. Anyuta was
very proud of her correspondent, and alas, Lieutenant
Gvozdev's letters, which were not written for public in-
formation, were read aloud, in part or whole, except for
the more intimate passages, which, incidentally, appeared
more and more often as the correspondence continued.
The entire third-year medical course was in love with
heroic Grisha Gvozdev, disliked surly Kukushkin, admir-
ed Meresyev's indomitable spirit, and regarded as a per-
sonal bereavement the death of the Commissar whom,
after Gvozdev's rhapsodic descriptions of him, all were
able to appreciate and love. Many were unable to re-
strain their tears when they heard that this big, vivacious
man had departed this life.
The interchange of letters between the hospital and the
university became more and more frequent. The young
people were not content with the ordinary post, which in
those days was too slow. In one of his letters, Gvozdev
quoted the Commissar as saying that nowadays letters
reached their destinations like light from distant stars.
A person's life may be extinguished, but his letters would
travel slowly on and eventually tell the recipients about
the life of a man who had died long ago. Practical and
enterprising, Anyuta looked for a more perfect means of
communication and found it in the person of an elderly
nurse who worked both at the university clinic and at
Vasily Vasilyevich's hospital.
From that day onward, the university learned of the
happenings in ward forty-two on the second or, at the
latest, the third day and was able to respond to them
quickly. In connection with the "artificial feet fit for a
king", a dispute arose about whether Meresyev would be
able to fly or not. It was a youthful and ardent dispute,
in which both sides sympathised with Meresyev. Bearing